Southern preserves campus prairie land

Brad Stout, Editor-in-Chief

A 14-acre tract of land in the northeast corner of the Missouri Southern campus was permanently set aside as part of a preservation effort after members of the department of biology and environmental health, who had been studying the land, presented their findings to the University’s Board of Governors Feb. 20.

The land is said to be unplowed native tall grass prairie, and is part of only about 75,000 acres of such land still in existence in Missouri.

“We look at these little mounds out on the prairie that are called mima mounds, and these are historically created by rodent activity after the last ice age,” said Jason Willand, assistant professor with the department of biology. “Typically, you know that the landscape has been plowed because you will see no evidence of these mounds. Typically when farmers go out and plow, they basically level the landscape.”

According to Willand, this prairie land is home to over 170 different species of plants, some of which have been identified as indicators of remnant, or high quality, prairie.

“These are species that you would not see in a system that has been degraded in some form in the past,” said Willand.

Willand says there is also an abundance of bird species that either call the land home or pass through it quite regularly, including numerous sparrow species, dick cissels, the meadowlark, painted bunting, and the bobwhite quail, as well as the common snipe and the short bearded owl.

Because of its wide array of animal, insect and bird species, the land, which is part of the university’s more than 300 acres, will be used as a natural laboratory for Southern’s biology and environmental health research students.

In addition to biology and environmental health student use, the department plans to work with regional K-12 educators and other academic areas of Southern’s campus to develop educational programs using the prairie.

Though they acknowledged that future Board members might not show the same support, the current Board members voted unanimously to preserve the 14-acre tract of land, in addition to a second, adjacent piece of land that will also be available to students, but may be used for building projects in the future.

“There are plenty of natural areas to go off campus and take students to see,” said Willand. “With this prairie here, we can just simply take them across the street and really show them a good representative of this habitat type without really having to travel far.”

Randy Haas, a private land conservationist with the Missouri department of conservation, is assisting with the preservation.